An Azure Consultants Guide to Cloud Automation

As the global pandemic fast-tracked the requirement for online operations, many businesses turned to the cloud for a solution. Not just for applications, the cloud has also become incredibly popular for infrastructure, with a huge percentage of organisations leveraging cloud migration services. Cloud infrastructure offers organisations on-demand access to additional computing capacity and storage, delivering unrivalled flexibility and agility. However, in spite of its obvious benefits, without effective management, the cloud can create a complex environment. While services can be used on-demand when required, someone actually needs to spin up those resources, test them, decide when they are no longer needed and remove them, all of which is a considerable effort. This is where cloud automation tools come into play.

What is Cloud Automation and Orchestration?

While the cloud offers great scalability and agility, there are still manual processes that need to be managed. These might be installation processes, configuring virtual managers or managing cloud computing systems. To speed up these processes, businesses often turn to cloud automation and orchestration tools. Cloud automation entails solutions and tools that help reduce repetitive manual processes and deal with individual tasks. Cloud orchestration, on the other hand, arranges several tasks into one easy-to-manage workflow. 

Cloud automation can help improve efficiency for many different tasks; some of the most common uses include:

  • Database backups – backing up data is vital wherever it resides, but it is often a manual process that sits with the IT team. With cloud automation tools, backups can be planned to a fixed schedule with no chance of human error. 
  • Application development and testing – to practice continuous delivery and deployment, businesses need realistic development environments that are automatically managed as part of the development pipeline. With cloud automation tools, new code can be tested automatically and, after any bugs are fixed, applications can then be automatically moved to the production environment. 
  • Cloud management – for companies using both public and private clouds, environments can be complex and require intricate integrations. Cloud automation tools can help manage multiple clouds by synchronising assets and providing one toolset. Assets can then be moved to the cloud when resources are exceeded and disaster recovery can be strengthened. 
  • Workload management – to benefit from the efficiencies of the cloud environment, it’s vital to be able to track what’s running, remove unused resources and adapt infrastructure to the actual operating requirements. With cloud automation, businesses can monitor their environment and automatically adjust workloads. 

The Benefits of Cloud Automation Tools

Cloud automation can be beneficial for businesses across many industries. Ultimately, if you have to carry out repetitive manual tasks to manage your cloud environment, you could be working more efficiently. With the right groundwork, automation enables you to perform complex tasks at the click of a button. However, as well as simply reducing manual processes, cloud automation tools offer several business benefits:

  • Improved security – by automating sensitive tasks, there is no need for multiple users to log into mission-critical systems. This reduces the risk of human error, malicious insiders and account compromise. What’s more, security best practices can be built into automated workflows and continuous monitoring can identify any vulnerabilities. 
  • Reduced costs – the more human involvement there is in routine tasks, the more expensive it becomes as their time needs to be accounted for. By automating cloud-based processes, operational costs are reduced and manual labour can be used for more important tasks like innovation and driving the business forward. 
  • Enhanced backups – as we’ve touched on, it’s vital to backup data in order to prevent data loss. By automating the process, businesses can be confident that they’ll always have access to the most recent information and will be far more resilient in the event of equipment failure, a natural disaster or a cyberattack. 
  • Better governance – with manual management of cloud services, businesses only have visibility into the processes that are running at any given moment. With automation, on the other hand, there is a more centralised view. What’s more, automation can improve role-based access control. 
  • Increased scalability – while manual workflows may be adequate for a smaller cloud environment, it is a different story when there are several virtual machines and a huge data store to manage. With automation, businesses are able to work on a large scale with no limit on the number of users or servers. 

Why Use Azure for Cloud Automation

Cloud automation isn’t built into the cloud; it’s a matter of having technical knowledge and using specialised tools offered by the cloud vendor. As such, implementing automation to cloud infrastructure can seem like a daunting task. That’s why many businesses turn to Microsoft Azure. The cloud computing service enables them to test, deploy and manage applications through Microsoft-managed data centres. Azure Automation delivers cloud-based automation, operating systems updates and configuration services that enable management across both Azure and non-Azure environments. Some of the most useful Azure automation features include:

  • Process automation – enabling the automation of frequent, time-consuming and often error-prone management tasks. The feature supports the integration of Azure services and third-party systems for deploying, configuring, and managing end-to-end processes. 
  • Configuration management – Change Tracking and Inventory enables virtual machine and server infrastructure changes to be tracked and issues raised. Meanwhile, Azure Automation State Configuration provides services for enterprise environments to manage resources and apply configurations to virtual or physical machines. 
  • Update management – this feature delivers visibility into update compliance across Azure and other clouds as well as on-premises. In addition, it’s possible to create scheduled deployments to install updates within a defined maintenance window. 
  • Shared capabilities – shared resources make it easier to automate and configure environments at scale. These capabilities include role-based access control, flexible scheduling, source control integration and auditing. 

Ultimately, Azure Automation helps to blend configuration management and orchestration tools for deploying multi-tier applications with a single command. With Azure Automation, management tasks can be carried out effortlessly and necessary infrastructure modification can be easily managed. With automation on your side, your business can gain complete control during deployment, operation and decommissioning of enterprise workloads and resources. 

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About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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